In my first four months working for the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), one thing has stood out from my conversations with media. It is the question that comes up time and again: What is the relevance of the Commonwealth Games? What is the relevance of Commonwealth sport today, in 2018?
The response to that question is very simple: the Commonwealth and Commonwealth sports movement is more relevant than at any time in its history.
More relevant than ever before because, in this age of multi-million-dollar commercial sport, it is the human stories – the likes of which dominate the Commonwealth Games on a regular basis – that grab our attention and pull on our heartstrings.
And it is no surprise that many of the human stories of commitment, determination and passion are Commonwealth stories, for it is the diverse and dynamic Commonwealth of Nations that has these stories in abundance and tells them so well; whether it’s the inspiring women of the Nigerian bobsleigh team making sporting history in Pyeongchang, or the former youth worker and Rio 2016 star Pita Taufatofua who turned from taekwando to the hardest sport he can find on the snow-less Pacific island of Tonga: cross-country skiing.
The Commonwealth excels – one could even argue is unique - in telling these stories.
More relevant than ever because, as any sporting movement will tell you today, it is essential to focus on the youth market: the athletes of tomorrow. With 2.4 billion people spread across 71 Commonwealth nations and territories (equivalent to 33 per cent of the world’s population), incredibly more than 60 per cent of those citizens are under the age of 30.
The Commonwealth and Commonwealth sport, therefore, has a remarkable opportunity to focus its energies on using the power of sport to improve society for the more than 1.4 billion individuals under the age of 30 across the Commonwealth, whether they be in Nauru (with a population of just 10,000 people) or India (with a population of 1.2 billion people).
More relevant than ever because whilst other sporting movements worldwide have suffered from poor governance, and have been driven chiefly by commercial deals and revenue over the need to demonstrate sport’s social purpose, it is the modern Commonwealth sports movement that has carved its own unique identity: sport with a social conscience and positive impact.
Whether that impact be through the promotion, protection and safeguarding of clean athletes; the publication of pre-Games and post-Games Human Rights Reports; by embracing the fair living wage; ethical and sustainable procurement, and by including community benefit clauses in host city contracts (take the recognition of indigenous rights through the Gold Coast 2018 Reconciliation Action Plan, for example); or by actively promoting LGBT rights and embracing diversity every single step of the way.
These social-driven causes are the Commonwealth sport movement’s raison d'être in the 21st Century, and why the CGF stands apart from any other sporting institution worldwide.
More relevant than ever because Commonwealth sport and the Commonwealth Games have, well into the 21st Century, retained their spirit (the “friendly Games”, as the Games are still known). The Commonwealth Games boast a spirit that Olympic sport quite simply cannot. Whether it is Commonwealth sport’s more accessible or relatable ‘brand’ through the captivating human stories it tells; or whether it is the feeling of ‘belonging’ that Commonwealth countries have through their shared history, common values and vision for the future. Whatever it may be, the modern Commonwealth has a unique, unparalleled spirit.
More relevant than ever before because there is a renewed focus on the Commonwealth. With Gold Coast 2018 now upon us, Birmingham 2022 preparations underway, the high-profile Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) being hosted by the UK Government in April, and the impending departure of Britain from the European Union -or “Brexit”, as it is known - the Commonwealth has a spring in its step, a new-found energy that it has not had for years, decades even.
With a resurgent Commonwealth and Commonwealth sports movement, 2018 is rightly being billed as ‘The Commonwealth’s Year’.
Ben Nichols is the director of communications and public affairs at the Commonwealth Games Federation.